U.S. Hospitals Urged to Have Well-Developed Disaster Plans in Place

Protecting patients during times of natural or manmade disasters must be a priority for hospitals and other American healthcare facilities, says the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The HHS, as a result, is encouraging federal officials to develop new guidelines for American healthcare facilities, whether they are large hospital systems or small group homes, to ensure they have guidelines in place to protect their patients during disasters.

The HHS, calling emergency preparedness among our nation’s healthcare facilities an “urgent public health issue,” notes that more than 68,000 healthcare institutions would be affected by severe disruptions in the event of a disaster.

Healthcare Industry Officials Question Cost of Proposed Regulations

The proposed regulations would require healthcare facilities, including nursing facilities, group homes, dialysis centers, and hospitals, among others, to install and maintain emergency lighting, temperature control systems and sewage and waste disposal that could be operated during power outages, and fire safety systems.

Inpatient facilities would also need to have systems in place that would be able to track displaced patients, and they would need to have planned sites where they could provide care and handle volunteers.

The proposed regulations were met with some degree of resistance from industry officials who said that the first-year cost would exceed $225 million. The American Hospital Association, for example, said that federal officials may have “significantly underestimated” the time, money and effort associated with initiating the new guidelines.

A ‘Broad Approach’ to Emergency Preparedness

Federal officials are considering making emergency preparedness a condition for participation in Medicare and Medicaid programs. They said that this “broad approach” is required to guarantee that the nation’s healthcare system is prepared for times of crisis and that institutions that are not properly prepared do not cause undue stress to other institutions during these times.

Government officials estimate that adopting these guidelines would cost hospitals about $8,000 a year and about $1,200 a year for skilled nursing facilities. Plans for nationwide regulations throughout the country’s healthcare institutions was first addressed following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when it was estimated that 215 deaths occurred in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana.